Russia's lower house of parliament voted yesterday to widen the definition of slander and libel and give regulators the authority to shut down media outlets found guilty of publishing such material.
The legislation, passed by the State Duma 339-1, is the latest attempt by the government to squeeze the country's increasingly embattled news media.
The bill allows authorities to suspend and close down media outlets for libel and slander — punishment that is identical for news media found to be promoting terrorism, extremism and racial hatred.
It also expands the definition for slander and libel to "dissemination of deliberately false information damaging individual honor and dignity."
The legislation will be considered in two more readings, before heading to the upper house of parliament, where approval is likely, and then to Putin for signing.
The bill's passage comes just days after a scandal involving a tabloid newspaper that had reported that President Vladimir Putin had divorced his wife and planned to marry a champion gymnast.
Putin vehemently denied the report in Moskovsky Korrespondent and the newspaper was shut down after Moscow authorities banned its distribution and the chief editor resigned.
The bill was submitted by Robert Schlegel, a former activist of the Kremlin-backed youth movement Nashi that gained notoriety for street protests and political pranks against Putin critics.
Putin has presided over a steady rollback of post-Soviet media and political freedoms.
Major national television networks have come under the control of the Kremlin or its allies, and Russia's print media have also experienced growing official pressure.